“M” is Fritz Lang’s 1931 masterpiece. It’s his first “talkie” and his final German film. It’s a film that I had never seen and I knew nothing more about it than what the Netflix description said. I went into it with no expectations other than to see why this film is considered a classic and why, after eighty years, it continues to be held in high regard. I would love to have watched the Criterion Blu-Ray release of it, but I ended up watching it on Netflix streaming. That said, even the limitations of streaming video could not detract from the enjoyment of this film.
Should this film be considered a classic? The answer here is an unqualified yes. Even eighty years later the film still feels fresh and relevant. Why? Because it is dealing with a topic that captivates western audiences: the serial killer. Not only that but the serial killer, played by the perfectly cast Peter Lorre, is also a pedophile. Fritz Lang does an incredible job building tension throughout the course of the film. From the early moments when the killer first strikes right up until the end as the walls finally close in on the killer thanks to the work of a band of criminals and misfits who wanted him caught because of the extra police attention he created. Lang having the killer whistle Peer Gynt’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King” when he was on screen or about to appear on screen was masterful. I will never be able to listen to that tune the same way again. As the film went on and those notes would come across the speakers it almost had me jumping out of my seat wondering why someone hadn’t caught the creep!
From a historical perspective it is also fascinating to see the pre WWII Germany portrayed. Just in passing comments I heard references to “the state” and the reliance of the people on the state to take care of the problem. Interestingly, it was not the state that caught the killer but a band of criminals. Also, the way Lang showed the process of the police investigation was fascinating and almost played out like “CSI- 1931.” Another interesting sign of the times was the obvious Freudian influences in the film. Freud’s work was being strongly felt in the burgeoning fields of psychology and psychiatry, and was especially strong in Germany, and you can see much of his thought making its way into this film.
Would I own this film? If the glowing tone of my previous section didn’t already give it away then the answer is a hearty yes! This is a film that has aged very well and is still enjoyable to watch today. I don’t mean “enjoyable” in an artsy sense either. You can definitely appreciate the art is this film (e.g. the long silent sections that remind that this film was a bridge piece between “talkie” and “silent”) but if you are just looking for a tense and well crafted murder mystery this film will also fit the bill. Do yourself a favor and watch this movie. If you have Netflix there is no excuse because you can watch it streaming. I plan on picking up the Criterion Blu-Ray and adding this to my collection permanently. Yes, it’s that good!